Worship: What Events Are Worth Celebrating?
These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)
Jesus has the power to save us. The events that make up his life—what he said and what he did—can be used to lead us to faith in him. As we immerse ourselves in what he did, we can grow in our conviction and become more established in the truth (Luke 1:4; 2 Peter 1:8, 12).
The events of Jesus’ life are recorded for us to remember, study, re-enact, commemorate and meditate upon. By regularly doing this—for instance, by an annual cycle that keeps returning us to events in the life of Jesus Christ—we grow in faith, we draw closer to the heart of God and we are increasingly equipped to produce fruit for our Lord.
If events of the past remain nothing more than a written record, they lose part of their power. They exercise their power in our lives only to the degree that we remember them. We are called to do more than just read about them or study them; we are called to experience Jesus’ life by celebrating and even re-enacting major events. When we remember those events with ongoing celebrations, lives continue to be transformed.
Ancient Israel’s experience teaches us the value of an annual rehearsal of God’s acts of salvation. Every year they rehearsed the great salvation events of their history, the events in which God acted to save them. Their weekly Sabbath and annual festivals were designed to remind them how God had freed them from slavery in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Exodus 12:11-12, 26-27, 42; 13:3, 8-10; Deuteronomy 16:10-12; Leviticus 23:43).
By celebrating this way, they annually remembered what God had done for them, they renewed and deepened their relationship with God, and they remembered their responsibility to God. They were not restricted to worshiping on those days alone. They continued to see the hand of God in their history long after the Exodus, so they created additional days of worship to remember and celebrate his intervention, power and love. For example:
- They instituted annual fasts to remember the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and the beginning of their exile (Zechariah 7:5; Jeremiah 52:12; 2 Kings 25:8-25; Zechariah 8:19; 2 Kings 25:1; Jeremiah 39:2).
- When God delivered them from persecution in the fifth century B.C., they commemorated his deliverance by creating the Feast of Purim (Esther 9:27-28).
- After God delivered them from the oppression of Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century B.C., they instituted the Feast of Hanukkah, mentioned in John 10:22, as a festival of remembrance and rejoicing.
Like Israel, we Christians have a great salvation-event to remember. Unlike Israel’s, ours is not just a salvation event. It is the salvation event: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ by which we are saved from sin and death.
The new covenant contains no commanded days of worship. Under the new covenant, the church is free to designate days on which to celebrate and re-enact God’s act of salvation in Jesus Christ. Those celebrations can draw upon imagery from some of the festivals of Israel, which, while they looked back to that nation’s salvation from Egypt, also can remind us of a greater salvation, which has now come in Jesus Christ. Christian celebrations can occur at various times of the year, designed to remember and celebrate events of the life of Jesus.
The church is not commanded to adopt worship celebrations for all the events of the Gospels, but it is permitted to adopt as many worship celebrations as it feels appropriate. The church is also free to reinterpret the festivals of Israel, and to create new festivals to remember major events in our salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Author: Don Mears